As in other states, Illinois law now uses the term “parenting time” in lieu of “physical custody”. This reflects the fact that family courts prioritize the best interests of the child when determining whether he or she lives with one parent or alternates between households.
In general, the court favors an arrangement that fosters a close relationship with both parents. However, even when parents share physical custody, the time that the child spends with each parent may not be evenly split. Additionally, if one parent has demonstrated that he or she is unfit, the court may award sole custody to the other ex-spouse.
Physical custody and parenting plans
Even when parents share physical custody, it is unlikely that the child will spend precisely half of his or her time with each parent. Rather, divorcing individuals must submit a detailed parenting plan that specifies which days of the week the child will spend with each parent, including holidays and school breaks.
When the court may grant sole custody
If one parent demonstrates either unwillingness or inability to maintain a healthy, positive relationship with the child and the child’s other parent, a judge may grant sole custody to the other parent. Common reasons for denial of custody include:
- A history of child abuse, neglect or abandonment
- Failure to maintain stable housing and/or employment
- Issues with substance abuse or mental health
- A disparaging attitude toward the other parent (parental alienation)
- Relocation that involves unreasonable distance between households
However, even if the court initially denies joint custody, if a parent’s circumstances or a child’s needs change significantly, either parent may petition the court to review its decision.